Few things can scare the absolute life out of you in the way a video game can. Sure, movies are spooky, but holding that controller adds a layer of immersion that makes you extra prone to old-fashion spooking. And with the 25th anniversary of the Resident Evil franchise, it seems like now is the right time to think about gaming’s scariest moments. Warning, there are slight spoilers ahead!
If you’d rather watch all these scares in motion, be sure to watch the video version of this feature. Otherwise, check out our feature detailing about Resident Evil Village–the latest and biggest horror game coming out this year.
Dead Space 2 – The “Eye Scene”
If you’ve played Dead Space 2, you already know what scene I’m about to mention. Yup, that scene. You’re probably squirming at the thought of it.
Leading up to the game’s conclusion, poor Isaac Clark is faced with the game’s most terrifying foe, and no, not another Necromorph, but instead a needle that you have to carefully guide, in a limited amount of time, right into his pupil. Failure to do so results in, well, this.
This is one of the rare occurrences in games where you’re bound to wince and screech as your body tenses into a rigor mortis-like state regardless of whether you fail or succeed. And it’s absolutely brilliant. Guh, I hate it.
Even when you think you’ve seen all that Dead Space 2 has to throw at you, from countless terrifying jump scares to its most disgusting enemies, nothing could prepare you for this scene. Dead Space took our expectations and flung them into the deep void of space while also turning a bad case of Trypanophobia up to 11. The result is unfortunately unforgettable (in the best way possible, of course).
If the concept of being stranded alone in deep space wasn’t enough, developer Visceral Games seems to have said: “Hey, what other fears can we throw into the mix? Needles? Eye gouging? Sure! Why not?” Thanks, Visceral Games. I hate you. I love you.
Dead Space is a franchise defined by its violence, scares, and how it subverts player expectations, and this scene encapsulated all of that masterfully. And even 10 years since playing the game, it’s impossible not to squirm at the thought of it. — Kurt Indovina, Original Programming Host/Writer
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard – Jack Baker’s “Kool-Aid Man” Moment
This infamous moment from Resident Evil 7 is arguably one of the most finely orchestrated jump scares in horror gaming history. What makes it so devilish is that Capcom crafted the game’s opening area to be incredibly oppressive, with just a few small disgusting and decrepit rooms to explore, connected by a grimey narrow corridor that doesn’t leave much room to move. And to make matters worse, Jack Baker, the patriarch of the maniacal family holding you captive, is pacing around in the same area with you.
And that’s what Capcom makes you focus on. Your goal is to leave that area, but to do so, you need to maintain a keen awareness of Jack’s location. The player pours all their focus into staying out of his sight and training their ears to listen to his footsteps, note how distant they are, and place him in the environment based on that. You pick up on these senses, and after a few minutes, you start to believe Jack has a specific pattern of behaviour, a style of movement, and he will behave mostly normally, even if he is a lunatic.
Imagine the feeling when, as you’re skulking through a corridor and moving towards your escape point, Jack crashes through a wall, using his makeshift weapon and terrifying physical strength to move through wood and concrete like it’s paper. The sudden sound of the wall erupting, Ethan’s gasp, and the realization that Jack knew what you were up to and now stands in your way not only made for an amazing jump scare, but also a fantastic set-piece that built tension and then expertly leveraged it for a cinematic moment. — Tamoor Hussain, Managing Editor
Amnesia: The Dark Descent – Water Monster
When the idea of reacting to video game moments was on the come-up as a hot new thing to watch on YouTube, one of the more popular games was Amnesia: The Dark Descent, a game where your own character’s sanity was pushed to its extremes. The closer to the breaking point your character’s mind got, the more twisted the world would become. It was a game about staying in the light because horrifying things awaited in the darkness.
One of the more memorable scares in Amnesia involved walking through what felt like an endlessly snaking and looping corridor that was sparsely lit. Strewn throughout the environment was destroyed furniture, floating in water that reached knee-high. It felt like an inescapable maze, and the pounding music with its choir-like vocals made it feel like something was closing in on you. And something was.
The moment you stepped foot into the water, the sound of some sort of monstrous behemoth stomping towards you pierced through. Except, surveying the environment revealed nothing. It’s when you look at the water that you realize that the creature is only seen from the splashing indicating its location, and the moment your feet touch water, it will start charging toward you.
To escape, you needed to jump between objects in the environment, which, the first time through, felt like an impossible task. The consistent sense of tension and dread this moment created had most people sitting in front of their screens with all their muscles clenched, willing themselves to move. And for those watching on YouTube, it offered a lovely sense of schadenfreude to see people losing their minds as they try to figure out what’s going on. — Tamoor Hussain, Managing Editor
P.T. – Lisa & The Baby In The Sink
Of course, Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro’s short-lived masterpiece had to go on here, but the question remains: Which part of P.T. is the spookiest?
Was it turning the corner and seeing Lisa for the first time? Was it the baby in the sink? Or even the knowledge that came years after the game was released and then pulled: That Lisa was scripted to follow you around the game the , and you had no idea? While all terrifying in their own right, it was the horrific encounter with Lisa that proved the scariest of them all.
Once you get over the jumpscare of the pane of glass shattering in front of you seemingly out of nowhere, there’s a further fright that is actually very easily missed: Lisa leering down at you from the balcony above before skulking back into the darkness. It’s a real one-two punch of scares and makes me even sadder that Kojima and Del Toro’s project was canceled. — Lucy James, Senior Video producer
Outlast: Whistleblower DLC – Eddie Gluskin’s Workshop
One of Outlast’s most significant achievements is the increasingly twisted characters you encounter in your harrowing trip through Mount Massive Asylum, from the visually grotesque to the more subtly disturbing. But by far, the most memorable of them all is Eddie Gluskin from the Whistleblower expansion.
Eddie is a simple man with a simple dream. He just wants a happy family, and the fact that he’s locked up in an asylum full of serial killers isn’t going to stop him. Referred to as “The Groom” by the other patients, what Eddie does to his “brides to be” is beyond disturbing.
What makes Eddie so horrifying is how charmingly he presents himself. But make no mistake, he is domestic abuse and misogyny incarnate, taking things to absolute extremes, culminating in one of the most uncomfortable scenes ever put in a game. When you think you’re safely hidden in a locker, Eddie seals the door shut and drags you to his workshop. Eventually, it’s your turn, and the player is strapped naked to a table with a buzzsaw aimed right at your genitals.
This is when you as the player need to decide if you’re going to stick with it or go “nope, I’m out” and turn the game off. Unlike a jump scare, the horror here is clear and present, and you can’t look away, at least, in the game. I certainly looked away. — Jean-Luc Seipke, Video Producer
Silent Hill 3 – The Mirror Room
I’m sure you know that classic tried-and-true scare in horror movies where the character is looking in the medicine cabinet mirror, opens it, and then closes it to reveal that something is standing behind them. Well, Silent Hill 3 takes that trite scare and instead makes you, the player, the focal point of terror.
While roaming around Brookhaven Hospital (and trying to avoid getting tetanus), there’s a storeroom with a giant mirror. But you may not want to stick around to check yourself out, as things will start to get a little creepy.
As you watch, Heather’s reflection is overcome, as blood consumes the room, spreading across it and, eventually, enveloping her completely, all while you just stand there. But wait around for too long, and Heather will succumb to the nightmarish forces invading the room.
Among all of Silent Hill 3’s terrifying moments, this one fed directly into Heather Mason’s fears of mirrors, making it all the more impactful. It’s eerie enough to make you think twice about looking at yourself in the mirror for too long next time you’re alone. — Kurt Indovina, Original Programming Host/Writer
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem – Corrupt Saved Data Fake Out
Every gamer knows the feeling of saving your game–opening up the menu, tapping through prompts, picking save, overwriting, and then back to playing the game. It’s practically muscle memory for a lot of us. Well, Eternal Darkness took that gaming ritual and turned it into one of the most panic-inducing moments ever experienced in a horror game.
When going to save your game, you’ll be prompted with “Are you sure you want to delete all of your saved games?” Regardless of what you choose, even if it’s “Continue Without Saving,” the game initiates deleting all your saved data. It then forces you to sit in brief agonizing torment as you try to come to grips with whether you accidentally pressed the wrong thing, or if it’s a bug, or if the game is messing with you again.
Eternal Darkness is a game all about toying with your sanity, and I mean that quite literally. Not only is the game scary on its own, but it also ups the ante by playing into your most inner gaming paranoias and fears, like shutting off the TV, switching video inputs when you least expect it, or suddenly turning the volume down. Most effects, however, wouldn’t really hold up these days, unless you’re still gaming on a CRT TV, and in that case, you’re weird, and you’re cool.
But of all the ways Eternal Darkness messes with you, losing your saved data is still one that prevails today. Even with cloud saves, it’s still enough of a scare to send a jolt of worry through your bloodstream. The scare seemed so cruel that even that it might cause players to break their GameCubes in frustration. — Kurt Indovina, Original Programming Host/Writer
Doki Doki Literature Club
Alright, this is the last one because it’s a major spoiler for Doki Doki Literature Club, which, on the surface, is a pleasant visual novel about getting to know the girls in your after school club. However, the game takes a massive shift, and underlying the friendly conversations about poetry is something altogether more sinister. Throughout the game, the girls in the club lose their grip on sanity and can die in extremely upsetting ways.
The one that sticks out the most is Natsuki, who starts by having a relatively normal conversation about writing. But after presenting you with a nonsensical poem, she quickly becomes increasingly unhinged until she breaks her neck and runs right at you. The fourth-wall-breaking antics of this moment are shocking and can easily catch you off-guard. It certainly had me jumping from out of my seat.
There are more messed up things to uncover in Doki Doki Literature Club, which is free on Steam right now, and you should definitely try it. — Lucy James, Senior Video Producer